For farmers and ranchers across the greater Southwest, it's time to check your mailbox, because Uncle Sam is sending you a pre-holiday package.
Could it be a federal crop insurance check or an old crop subsidy payment that was lost in the mail for a lengthy time and just now finding its way to your mailbox?
Don't get your hopes up.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is the agency that is sending out this pre-holiday mail, and once you open it you will find the 2017 Census of Agriculture with instructions on how to either fill it out and return it in the nifty little return envelope provided or, for the computer savvy, how to take advantage of a faster method of completion and delivery.
"The Census of Agriculture is USDA’s largest data collection endeavor, providing some of the most widely used statistics in the industry," U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said last week. "Collected in service to American agriculture since 1840, the census gives every producer the opportunity to be represented so that informed decisions can support their efforts to provide the world with food, fuel, feed, and fiber. Every response matters."
According to the NASS, this year's census has been revised to make completing the form and returning it easier than ever before. The census will be mailed in several phases through December. Farm operations of all sizes that produced and sold, or normally would have sold, $1,000 or more of agricultural product in 2017 are included in the census. NASS officials remind producers that the census is the only source of uniform, comprehensive and impartial agricultural data for every state and county in the nation.
An estimated 400,000 to 500,000 farmers and ranchers received an email from NASS in November promoting the improved web application. For those that prefer to complete the survey online, where you fill out the questionnaire and simply click a button and electronically send it back to the USDA to relieve yourself from the burden of having to stuff it, seal it and take it to the post office.
Also this year, new time-saving features of the online questionnaire include automatically calculating totals, skipping sections that do not pertain to the operation and providing drop-down menus of frequent responses. After all, it is a modern world.
In addition, the new census website will be updated with new information through the census response deadline of Feb. 5, 2018.
NASS reports that revisions and additions to the 2017 census are designed to capture a more detailed account of the industry. Farmers will see a new question about military veteran status, expanded questions about food marketing practices and questions about on-farm decision-making to better capture the roles and contributions of beginning farmers, women farmers and others involved in running the farm and ranch business.
Conducted once every five years, the census is a complete count of all U.S. farms, ranches and those who operate them. It is the only source of uniform, comprehensive and impartial agriculture data for every state and county in the country.
"Producers can respond to the census online or by mail. We highly recommend the updated online questionnaire. We heard what people wanted and we made responding to the census easier than ever," said NASS Administrator Hubert Hamer. "The online questionnaire now has time-saving features, such as automatic calculations, and the convenience of being accessible on mobile and desktop devices."
USDA-NASS reminds producers that responding to the Census of Agriculture is required by law under Title 7 USC 2204(g) Public Law 105-113. The same law requires NASS to keep all information confidential, to use the data only for statistical purposes, and only publish in aggregate form to prevent disclosing the identity of any individual producer or farm operation. NASS will release the results of the census in February 2019.
For more information about the 2017 Census of Agriculture, visit www.agcensus.usda.gov or call (800) 727-9540.